“Like a proud elephant meeting a rabbit in the forest, Rama is like the elephant and you, O vile one, are like the rabbit.” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 22.16)
yathā dṛptaśca mātaṅgaḥ śaśaśca sahitau vane |
tathā dviradavadrāmastvaṃ nīca śaśavat smṛtaḥ ||
There is the famous fable of the tortoise and the hare. Fables are a good way to teach values to young children. Children don’t have as expanded a frame of reference as adults do, so instilling values like humility, perseverance, and courage is a difficult task. Just as the story of the tortoise and the hare teaches a valuable lesson, so does the hypothetical meeting of the elephant and the hare in the forest brought up by a very wise princess a long time ago.
You shouldn’t be too proud of your abilities. If you are, you risk utilizing them improperly. The tortoise and the hare are involved in a race. Another word for a tortoise is turtle. If you say that someone is as slow as a turtle, it means that they are really slow. The turtle takes a long time just to move a few feet. Speed is not their strong suit. The hare is also sometimes synonymous with a rabbit. A rabbit can hop very quickly. It is difficult to catch when running after it. The rabbit is sometimes described as pesky to the person trying to catch it [think Elmer Fudd from the cartoons].
In the fable the rabbit should easily win the raise, but due to false pride it ends up losing. It so belittles the turtle’s ability to do anything that it thinks it doesn’t need to work. Since the rabbit had the superior ability, its defeat is embarrassing. It’s like losing a giant lead in a football game. It’s like knowing all the answers to an exam but then failing because you carelessly mismatched the answers with the questions on the answer sheet.
Hearing the story, one learns that false pride isn’t good. “Slow and steady wins the race” is another lesson to take away. If you are perseverant, if you are determined, then you have a shot at defeating someone who is acknowledged to be superior to you in so many ways. Such lessons apply to pretty much every situation except for when the opponent is the origin of matter and spirit. There is no amount of determination in the world that can help a person defeat God. He is known as Ajita, which means that He is unconquerable.
This doesn’t mean that others have not tried or are not trying right now. The spinning wheel of the material existence, the samsara-chakra, continues to turn for as long as one tries to win the race against the Supreme Spirit. The competition doesn’t have to be about speed only. There are other opulences as well. There is the desire to surpass Him in beauty, in wealth, in fame, in renunciation, and in wisdom. The tale of the meeting of the proud elephant and the hare is much simpler to describe and understand. It is the story referenced by Sita Devi in her rebuke of Ravana, the fiendish king of Lanka.
The rabbit is much smaller than the elephant. The size difference is immediately noticeable. The rabbit can scamper about pretty quickly, but if going against an elephant in the forest, there is no chance for victory. Just one step by the elephant will end the rabbit’s life. If the elephant is proud, it will not calm down until the rabbit is dead. There is nothing the rabbit can do to win. Perhaps it can pray to God, look to the heavens for a natural disaster to save it.
The problem for Ravana was that God was the proud elephant in the battle. Ravana was like the rabbit compared to Rama. Therefore Ravana was finished. It was just a matter of time until everything in his kingdom was wiped away. He had it coming to him, too. Rama is not a vindictive God. He is not really interested in a person’s temporary achievements. Those pale in comparison to His own opulences, so what need is there for concern? Ravana had control over an opulent kingdom in Lanka, which likely had the largest supply of gold in the world. Ravana still wasn’t happy, though. So he resorted to stealing God’s eternal consort, who was on earth at the time as the daughter of King Janaka.
This brazen insult raised the ire of Rama. Sita belongs to Him. She is devoted to Him in thought, word and deed. In trying to make her his wife, Ravana tried to change her nature. He wanted her to worship him instead of Rama. This can never happen, and the failure to turn Sita over to his side was only the beginning of his troubles. Since he refused to return her to Rama, Ravana was in for a world of hurt.
Ravana thought that he was powerful, but he would soon learn that even the most powerful person in the world cannot come close to matching up against God. We have no idea of the full complexity of the material universe. And in the Vedas we learn that the material energy is an energy separate from God. It is not even that significant. How powerful, then, can any person be, for they are unable to comprehend a nature that is of secondary importance to the original being?
Sita here addresses Ravana as “nicha,” which means one who is very low. This referred to his behavior, for only a vile person would intentionally keep a beautiful princess from serving her beloved husband. As a rabbit in comparison to the proud and tall elephant Rama, Ravana was also very low. The supremely resplendent Rama would soon trample all over the much smaller Ravana, proving that Sita’s husband has the highest stature and is thus worshipable to all.
Immediately shun false ego’s face,
For slow and steady wins the race.
For king of Lanka not the case,
Perseverance not to save his state.
Ravana to a small rabbit Sita comparing,
And Rama to elephant of pride blazing.
Challenge to the Lord can go on and on,
But never victory to reminisce upon.